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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 15:04 GMT
The press in Saudi Arabia
Saudi press graphic

Saudi Arabia's 26m citizens have more than a dozen daily newspapers to choose from, most of them published in Arabic, with a few in English.

Overall, the Saudi media scene supports around 130 publications.

All newspapers are privately owned, but their publishers and editors are appointed or must be approved by the government. Papers based in Saudi Arabia have to obtain a royal decree to operate. Although in principle there is no legal restriction on freedom of expression in the kingdom, censorship is strict, and criticism of the government and Islam is automatically barred.

Editors and journalists are aware that any expression of opposition to or criticism of the government in general, and members of the ruling Al-Saud family in particular, is not accepted or tolerated.

This constitutes the most difficult challenge facing journalists in Saudi Arabia, where every word is monitored and scrutinised in a heavily censored atmosphere. Papers are directly or indirectly controlled by a member of the ruling family, or by people close to them.

Recently the Saudi government has attempted to appear less in control. Newspapers have reported on previously taboo subjects such as political, economic and educational reform, women's rights, corruption, and religion.

Saudi papers are also becoming increasingly willing to report on and condemn terrorist acts perpetrated by Islamic militants at home. In addition, criticism of US policy towards the Muslim world and the Middle East has been more apparent since the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Saudis prefer to get their newspapers from the local newsstands every day, whereas companies tend to buy subscriptions. The Al-Watan daily reported in February 2004 that Saudi newspaper sales have fallen to record lows and that papers are experiencing distribution problems.

At the same time the number of internet users in Saudi Arabia has surged, thus enabling increased online access, although the authorities are known to block hundreds of thousands of websites they deem unsuitable.

Main papers

Al-Sharq al-Awsat

Circulation: 235,000
Based: London
Founded: 1978
Owner: Saudi Research and Marketing Group

Describing itself as the "international newspaper of the Arabs", Al-Sharq al-Awsat is printed simultaneously in Saudi Arabia, London and several other capitals. It is an influential paper which carries pan-Arab and international affairs with a network of 20 correspondents who provide it with world news, and a number of leading columnists. It targets readers in Saudi Arabia interested in a wide range of news and opinions through its Riyadh edition. Its main readership, however, is composed of Arab expatriates world-wide. Al-Sharq al-Awsat is currently the only Arabic newspaper to own the Arabic copyright for many international syndicates such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today.


Arab News

Circulation: 110,000
Based: Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran
Founded: 1975
Owner: Saudi Research and Publishing Co.

Arab News was launched in 1975 as the first English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia. It likes to see itself as breaking cultural barriers and unifying Arabs and non-Arabs alike in responding to their need for information. It covers news from Europe, America, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, as well as from Middle Eastern countries. It also carries local news, business news, sports and features.


Al-Hayat

Circulation: 166,650
Based: London
Founded: 1946
Owner: Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud

Al-Hayat describes itself as "an independent, international and Arab political daily paper". It is the other influential Arab paper based in London. Al-Hayat was founded by Kamel Marwa and was first launched in Lebanon. It began worldwide distribution out of its London headquarters in 1988. It is targeted at Arab communities in about 30 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and North America, where it is available every morning through satellite printing. It says it aims to be "a primary source of information for English-speaking readers seeking an alternative perspective and in-depth reporting on the Middle East and the Arab world". It has offices in many Arab and European capitals. Al-Hayat has recently been cutting down in London owing to cost problems and relocating most of its operation to Lebanon.


Al-Jazirah

Circulation: 110,000
Based: Riyadh
Founded: 1972
Owner: Al-Jazirah Press

Al-Jazirah is one of the leading and most popular Arabic dailies and has branches in more than 30 cities inside and outside the Kingdom. It publishes reports and interviews on national, Arab and international issues. The paper is known for its daily supplements, which cover the economy, sports, culture, computers, medicine and science. It also carries cartoons. Al-Jazirah is widely circulated all over the Kingdom and is also available in other Arab and European countries. Its circulation has doubled in recent years. Its web site says that advertising and subscription orders from government offices, companies and individuals have risen sharply. Al-Jazirah was the first Saudi-based paper to launch a web site in 1997. The number of visitors to the site has increased to more than 3m in less than three years.


Al-Watan

Circulation: n/a
Based: Abha, western Saudi Arabia
Founded: 2000
Owner: Assir Establishment for Press and Publishing

Al-Watan, meaning "the homeland", was set up on a site donated by Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the second deputy prime minister and minister of defence. However, the founder of the newspaper is the governor of Assir, Prince Khalid al-Faysal. Al-Watan is a national paper with international publishing facilities in London, New York, Amman, and Cairo.


Okaz

Circulation: 110,000
Based: Jeddah
Founded: 1960
Owner: Okaz Organization for Press and Publication

Okaz is regarded as one of the leading dailies in Saudi Arabia. The paper is named after the popular Okaz market, which was one of the largest open markets during the pre-Islamic era. It was originally a weekly, but started daily publication in October 1964. It is currently printed in both Riyadh and Jeddah simultaneously, and has offices all over the Kingdom.


Saudi Gazette

Circulation: 14,400
Based: Riyadh
Founded: 1976
Owner: Okaz Organization for Press and Publication

This English-language daily was launched specifically to inform the increasing number of English-speaking readers in Saudi Arabia of the Kingdom's achievements and foreign policies. It is regarded as the leading English daily by most expatriate communities in Saudi Arabia.


Al-Riyadh

Circulation: 150,000
Based: Riyadh
Founded: 1964
Owner: Al-Yamama Press Establishment

Al-Riyadh is a daily Arabic-language paper, which focuses on local and Arab affairs. It is published in Riyadh and describes itself as the newspaper of the Saudi capital. It is one of the most respected papers for local and regional Arab Gulf affairs.


Al-Yaum

Circulation: n/a
Based: Dammam
Founded: 1965
Owner: Al-Yaum Organization for Printing and Publishing

Al-Yaum is a daily Arabic paper published and printed in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia. It carries mainly local news from that area, where it is widely read. The paper was first launched as a weekly eight-page publication. Gradually, the frequency and size of the paper increased. Its current daily format was first established in 1978.


BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.





MIDDLE EAST PRESS PROFILES
 

SEE ALSO
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
06 Dec 04 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Saudi Arabia
07 Dec 04 |  Country profiles



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